Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stars for the holidays

This being an SFnal blog and Christmas being almost upon us, what could be apter than a plug for Arthur C. Clarke's excellent short story "The Star"? If you haven't encountered it ... check it out. (Read the story before looking it up on the Wikipedia. The summary has a spoiler.)

Alpha Centauri
And that sorta, kinda begs the question: what's new in astronomy? I'm glad you asked!

For one, next-door neighbor Alpha Centauri is now known to have a planet! See "Earth-Size Planet Closest to Our Solar System: By The Numbers."

Closer to home (but not exactly homey), astronomers got their first good look at Makemake.  No, that's not a type of sushi. It's one of five (so far) recognized "dwarf planets" in the Solar system.  Makemake is about two-thirds the size of Pluto -- and (on average) even more remote. No atmosphere, either. For more, see "Dwarf planet Makemake examined for the first time."

Closer still, it's long been believed that the radiation environment on Mars's surface would be (over the long term) lethal.  Unlike the Earth, Mars has very little magnetic field to deflect the solar wind. And Mars has a very thin atmosphere with little oxygen. That argues for a less-than-effective  ozone layer to block UV rays. The Curiosity rover, though, has measured the Martian surface radiation environment, and it's comparable to what astronauts experience on the International Space Station. See "Evidence indicates astronauts could survive on Mars."

But will astronauts get to Mars? That will require -- besides buckets of investment that don't seem imminent -- a degree of technical sophistication. Hence it's discouraging to encounter the latest dispatch from the Department of It's Not Rocket Science. To wit:  NASA hasn't figured out that laptops can be stolen. And so we see that "NASA Suffers 'Large' Data Breach Affecting Employees, Contractors, and Others."

In 2012, how could anyone possibly be expected to encrypt sensitive data on laptops? Oh, wait ...

To end as we began, on an SFnal note, consider this question from io9: "Why doesn’t Syfy have a show like Battlestar Galactica any more?" An excellent piece, I think -- though I have a higher opinion of Caprica than does the article's author. And as far as I'm concerned The Sarah Connor Chronicles was as good (though sadly, cut down in its prime) as BSG.

No comments: